Conditioning critical to Muskies’ success

Darren Johnson wants his team to take their opponent’s breath away this weekend, while not gasping too much themselves.
“It’s going to come down to who’s got the bigger lungs,” said Johnson, whose Muskie senior girls’ basketball team will have their stamina pushed to the limit by the Thunder Bay high school champs in the best-of-three NWOSSAA final Friday and Saturday at Fort High.
“All we’ve done since we won NorWOSSA is work on basic skills and our conditioning,” said Johnson. “We’ve done a lot of running the last week or so.
“We know the team that’s coming is going to have very, very good conditioning,” he added. “We’ve got to get as many minutes from our best players as possible.”
The top-ranked St. Ignatius Falcons (13-1) face off against the No. 3-ranked Churchill Trojans (10-4) on Wednesday night in the final of the Thunder Bay high school league to decide who travels west to take on the Muskies.
Despite having home court advantage, the Muskies will be the decided underdogs against either opponent, who have the bonus in Thunder Bay of a year-round basketball developmental program that offers players significantly more hardwood time.
“If we can manage to steal the first game, anything can happen on Saturday,” said Johnson, who will be sporting freshly-coloured locks for Friday’s opener—courtesy of a promise to let his team dye his hair if they came home from Dryden with the NorWOSSA title.
“[Both Thunder Bay teams] have fairly quick guards that are good ball handlers, and they’re very deep teams,” he noted.
“We’re not going to change our style, though,” Johnson stressed. “Against St. Ignatius in our tournament last month [an 11-point Falcons’ victory], we tried to change our game too much.
“We’ve got to play the same style we’re used to, which is fast and lots of pressure on defence.
“I stand by what I said after we won NorWOSSA. If we play as well as we did in Dryden, we will be competitive,” he remarked.
Muskie captain Carling Barton, the team’s starting centre, has been here before—having played in the NWOSSAA final two years ago with three other members of the current roster.
“It would be great to get to the next level, especially for the girls who haven’t been this far before,” said Barton, one of eight veterans on the squad.
“When they came up here, we played really good. We only lost by six baskets. We have to play hard the whole game,” she stressed.
While everything seemed smooth as glass in the Muskies’ 43-19 win over host Dryden in the NorWOSSA final earlier this month, there were some difficulties in implementing the team’s new half-court offensive scheme, something Barton said is vital to have honed for this weekend.
“We had a lot of fast break points against Dryden,” she noted. “We know we won’t be able to do the same thing against [the Thun-der Bay teams].”
Barton’s usual replacement off the bench, first-year senior player Carley McCormick, can’t wait for the opening tip.
“I know I’m pumped for it,” she enthused. “I want to win this really bad. We know what we have to do. We just have to step up.”
Friday’s opener is set for 2:15 p.m., with game two of the final going at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Game three, if necessary, will follow at 3 p.m.
Spectators are welcome.